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The voyage of atrailblazing individual: Mohammad Iqbal takes part at 59th Venice Biennale2022

  • Takir Hossain
  • 4th August, 2022 10:28:01 PM
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Celebrated artist Mohammad Iqbal emerged in the Dhaka art scene in the 1990s with his potent philosophical themes and experimental paintings. His protagonists on canvas are usually saint, spiritualist, exploited people, mystics and children. In recent years, his pet subject has become children, whom he regards as neglected and mistreated.

Iqbal’s search for a more sublime world devoid of the current rush for materialistic benefits by returning to one’s original state regardless of whether it constitutes savageness or childhood can certainly be termed as unpragmatic by post modernists. However as has been the discourse throughout the past century that there is hardly any other option left to save individuals from magnifying the state of ‘existential nothingness’, Iqbal’s doctrine sheds some light of hope. Iqbal like the Victorians craves for returning to the past. However in this age we know that this can lead to highly unjustified ends. The only option suggested by sociologists so far is, a compromise achieved collectively which though might always be precarious and, in most cases, is unattainable provides the only background for dreams of a better future. It is evident that Iqbal does not necessarily ruminate on these issues. But it cannot be declared that what he deals with is of any smaller significance. The composition of his subject also has to be credited with distinction.

Mohammad Iqbal provides a pleasing look through his art and at the same time his works are narrative-based in the sense of his makingof the protagonists of his canvas. Narrative art is particularly a genre of art that tells a complete story, either as a moment in an ongoing story or as a sequence of events unfolding over time. This forms the first basic characteristic of his art.

Second comes, Iqbal’s social and political consciousness in which his thinking process is very lucid and coherent. He is very much concerned about the turmoil of world politics where even an innocent child gets bluntly affected. In recent years, Iqbal’s pet subject has become children, whom he regards as neglected and mistreated.The artist has developed a fondness for children. When the artist was a student of PhD of the Faculty of Fine Arts, Hiroshima City University from 2003 to 2005, he first concentrated on the subject. Afterwards when he completed his PhD from the Tokyo University of The Arts in 2010, he further extended his skills in the subject and he still constantly explores the varied facets of the theme. The artist has portrayed many faces of children in approximately the same disposition. Through the oval shaped faces, the artist seeks to convey the innocent and unaltered dreams and yearnings of children. Their eyes are the predominant aspects of these paintings. The eyes express surprise, pain, longing, puzzlement and panic. The artist feels all children look the same and their desires and expressions are also similar.

At the 59th Venice Biennale,Iqbal engrossed himself with the series of works where he has highlighted the visage of children in different temperaments on the canvas. The thought process is apparent on his canvas. Throughout the course of civilisation, major acts of violence and malice have taken place in different parts of the world. Civilisation now faces several threats. War, intolerance, superstition, xenophobia, conflict of interest, inequality and power play are rampant. The world has advanced through education, science and technology. However, violence and hostility continue to pose threat to human civilisation. If the present trend continues, the existence of humans, animals and nature will get to the verge of extinction gradually. The artist firmly believes it. Children are a symbol of hope and peace. Their existence can only be ensured in a world devoid of war and brutality. Many children die every year in wars and conflicts. In the artist’s view, the face is the most significant part of human figure and it is essentially the window to the mind. Through the series of works, he seeks to convey children’s innocent emotions.

Before doing the series of works, the artist collected information from newspapers and journals on child abuse, trafficking, killing and rape. It makes him cry when he observes children in inhuman conditions. Memories from childhood are also important to him. He cherishes those carefree days with endless possibilities.

During the Liberation War Iqbal was just four years old. Many lost their entire families to the war. Children lost their parents. War has now become a recurrent feature in the world. We remain insecure and unsafe. Children grow up amidst terror and panic -- some survive on the streets or orphanages. Many of them don't get to enjoy their fundamental rights. Thus the artist developed his preference on children as the theme of his artworks.

At the 59th Venice Biennale 2022, some of his paintings clearly highlight pure compositions that convey his fondness for translucent lines and tiny forms. Lines play a significant role in many of his paintings particularly in such kind of paintings. The light and shade superbly convey the seasons of the country but very emblematically.  Some of other motifs in his paintings are ancient edifices, rivers, vessels, hills and sky. From these latter themes it can easily be said that Iqbal has tried to depict universal nature in his works.

Iqbal’s search for a more sublime world devoid of the present ongoing rush for materialistic benefits, by returning to one's original state regardless of whether it constitutes savageness or childhood can certainly be termed as impragmatic by post modernists. Iqbal like the Victorians craves for returning to the past. But in modern times the only option suggested by sociologists so far is, a compromise achieved collectively which though might always be precarious and, in most cases, unattainable provides the only background for dreams of a better future. It is evident that Iqbal does not necessarily ruminate on these issues. But it cannot be declared that what he deals with is of any smaller significance.

With the progress of modern, civilization, we as human being are increasingly getting lost in the vortex of woeful obscurity. This while framing the 'existential question' ever more frequently is withholding our genuineness at the very childhood. Thus only by returning to our childhood memories and self can we hope to disavow the influx of capitalism and dare to face the truth by coming to terms with it in our authentic consciousness. Iqbal has tried to do this very same thing. We can see in his paintings periodically fading faces of children whose hair have not grown as yet. These children's faces remind one of the feelings incomprehensible to the matured mind of the twenty first century. Bearing this attitude of the modern man in mind, painter Iqbal chose the social outcasts or the nomads who found it hard to conform with their puzzling and repulsive surroundings. These people had little care for the length of their beard and hair as they did not find it necessary to be troubled by the valueless norms and etiquettes of society.

From the commencing of his career, Iqbal’s creative process has been impulsive, touching, scrupulous and detailed. It should be mentioned that the artist firstly concentrates on his theme, then he pours his labour to other technical aspects. In his professional life, the painter is very much wary of his grist of the mill and its philosophical and cerebral aspects. Previously, the painter gave more importance to his subject than its technical aspect. During that time he used impasto layers, in which the materials intertwine with other stuffs. Besides gripping the subject, he was occupied with thick colour where he created the character with help from superbly used spatula and brush on his canvas.

Iqbal is very meticulous about creating the ground of the canvas. To create the background for his paintings, the artist layers eight to ten times before making a level satisfactory enough for plunging deep into his subject easily. He has created varied kinds of dots, tiny round and oval sized forms with different shades. Some of his canvases are engrossed with vague forms, compositions and shadowy figures. Sometimes the painter applies colours directly -- piling them up faintly thick, and at times thin -- on the canvas, and tries to create an image that is dynamic and has appealing texture and sensuous tones. The backgrounds of most of his compositions are occupied by abstract forms, soothing colours and soft tones. Some works include engraved ambiguous forms while others are populated by scribbles and amorphous forms. Iqbal invests considerable time on each painting. The most significant feature of his paintings is that the surfaces of his paintings appear to us in same tone in every spaces of his painting.

The writer is an art critic and cultural curator.